Antibiotics Could Increase Risk of Mental Illness in Children
Antibiotics are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine, but we are now seeing how relying on them too much can have serious consequences. This includes the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, as well as findings that show that frequent antibiotic use in young children can result in the development of serious mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry tells how researchers found that overuse of antibiotics can have a profound effect on destroying the living sea of bacteria found in our gut biome. While antibiotics are effective at destroying infections, they are simultaneously working on destroying the healthy bacteria found in our gut. Our gut microbiome is responsible for a number of aspects in our body, most importantly our brains. It can affect the intricate communication network of nerves signals, help coordinate the gut-brain axis, and even have a part in regulating hormones.
In the study, researchers looked at the medical history of over a million children, specifically looking at the children that took antibiotics or anti-microbial medicine. They then tracked the children’s mental health for 10 years. What they found was that children who had long-term exposure to antibiotics were associated with a number of psychiatric disorders.
3.9 % of the children were hospitalized for a mental disorder, while 5.2 % of them were eventually prescribed an antipsychotic drug. In all, children who were hospitalized and treated for infection were at an 84 % higher risk of developing a mental illness later in their lives.
Study author Robert Yolken points out that while this doesn’t prove that antibiotics are the sole factor in developing mental illness in children, it is the most comprehensive study of its kind into the effects of using them, and how they can harm our fragile gut biomes. Yolken tells Gizmodo, “This isn’t meant to panic anyone. If we’re talking about parents whose kids get antibiotics for an ear infection – one dose is not going to do very much.”
This, however, is contrary to how antibiotics have been prescribed in the past. Many doctors will prescribe antibiotics to patients who urge them to do so, even when they are likely not needed. This has spawned a new movement within the medical community to be more wary of prescribing antibiotics, including shortening the treatment duration, prescribe fewer antibiotics, or using more specific drugs that only target certain kinds of bacteria.